Artist of the Issue: TJ Cannistraro ’24

Thomas (TJ) Cannistraro ’24 has been and continues to be a vital piece to Belmont Hill’s music, and theater programs. Currently in the Upper School Jazz Band, Upper School Rock Band, Orchestra and the Spring Play, TJ’s artistic contributions to Belmont Hill’s music and theater department truly express what positive influences he places upon the Belmont Hill community. 

As a student-artist, TJ’s schedule is filled with events. To manage the workload and school’s sometimes stressful environment, TJ says that “as a student, music has often provided me with something to look forward to during the school day as a break from classes.” In this way, TJ can release the built up pressure from school while also making a lasting impact on the music and theater departments. 

A prolific singer, pianist, guitarist and drummer, TJ’s wide variety of musical expression allows him to be “a more flexible musician when it [comes] to playing [music].” As a result, TJ’s contributions extend much farther than just the Jazz Band and Rock Band, as seen in his performances with the younger ensembles, such as the Middle School Jazz Band, and performances in the biannual Coffee Houses. His leadership, especially in the younger ensembles, played a defining role in their successful performances, gathering the applause of the whole crowd every time. Outside of school, TJ continues his musical spirit in positive ways as he “has been able to play in dozens of other bands and raise money for charities.” 

To keep up and polish his high standard of playing, TJ looks to simple and concise practice sessions: “My practicing could be a quick 5 minutes of ear training without even picking up an instrument.” His busy schedule does not get in the way of his music, which sometimes means a shorter practice session. 

In addition to improving his own skills, TJ’s musical influence has played a role in the overall environment of the Prenatt music building. He strives to improve others around him and is always willing to lend a helping hand to a fellow musician. As he puts it, “For me, music is a way of processing emotions and getting my feelings out, whether it’s excitement, stress, happiness, or frustration.” 

From a theater standpoint, TJ has brought life and a sense of deep emotion into his characters’ personas. His acting won him the Hayden Gaylord Coon Drama Prize – Acting June 2023: an award granted to the student who best demonstrated the emotion and expression of their character in his performance. His expression has not only earned him leading roles in the numerous plays he has performed in BH Short Film, Take Ten, It’s a Wonderful Life, Into the Woods, Twelve Angry Men, Game of Tiaras, Sister School, and This Sceptered Isle, but has also allowed him to bring his character to life in solos during chapel performances. Serving as a trailer for This Sceptered Isle, TJ’s solo performance in front of the school exhibited his true confidence and expression while put under the spotlight. While many may deem this difficult to do, TJ is able to collect himself and shine a light on his remarkable talents; his main goal is “for an audience is just to give them an entertaining show.” Although TJ will be graduating this spring, there will definitely be more of his extraordinary performances in and outside of school before his Commencement.

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